HAVANA TIMES, Nov 24 — The official newspaper Granma issued a desperate SOS to save Cuba’s forests from woodland rustlers who are indiscriminately felling the nation’s tree supply. The paper called on us to “prevent this natural, enormous and beautiful reserve from completely disappearing.”
The problem with some newspapers is that they sometimes tell us only half the story with the hope that we’ll swallow the whole pill. But this doesn’t always work. People aren’t stupid, and Cubans are particularly well educated.
Of course, everyone is against the indiscriminate felling of forests, either in Cuba or the Amazon. The difference is that in Brazil, citizens can legally go to any carpenter and acquire what wood they need.
But here in Cuba there’s not a single store where one can buy a simple board to fix the dinner table or replace a roof beam. This means that the only alternative left to people is the black market.
To top it all off, though the authorities have just begun allowing self-employment by carpenters, they don’t sell them any wood. Nonetheless — as if by magic — these workers continue to turn out rocking chairs, children’s toys and even full bedroom sets.
Handicraft production is not far behind. Those who visit the island will see plenty of beautiful wood sculptures that are sold to tourists, yet much of these works of art originate from the indiscriminate felling of forests.
It’s true that illegal loggers are committing a crime against the ecosystem, but it’s also true that others of us — forced by necessity — are receptive to buying from them, thus making it possible to complete the parallel commercial circuit.
No doubt a major factor in all this is the scarcity due to a lack of resources, but there’s an artificial shortage created by inefficiency, negligence and corruption that creates the ideal conditions for speculation in these materials.
Another important aspect of the problem is that the absurd prohibitions in the past acted to establish an environment conducive to the under-the-table selling of cellphone lines, computers, hotel reservations, and building materials.
The truth is that fines or confiscations could do nothing as long as bans on self-employed remained in place, forcing these activities underground as well as those of the automotive and real estate markets operating in the shadows.
Today the black market has lost ground in all these sectors; it has substantially less power, and much of the money that it used to pocket is now received by the government in the form of taxes. The lesson should be obvious to everyone.
One of the most important aspects of the reforms is that they open up legal alternatives to allow the public to address their everyday problems. The solution is not repression but the organization of the sale of wood at reasonable prices.
I’m sure most Cubans would then stop buying on the black market and the lack of demand would force illegal logging to dry up. In addition, these adjustments to the economic system would end up benefiting the ecosystem.
But instead of proposing to continue “adjusting” the model to life, the only thing occurring to the newspaper is to refine the “actions and measures” that go after illegal logging; they believe “otherwise people will continue committing these crimes.”
Following this logic, they’ll also have jail all those people who receive Internet services illegally, those who buy letters of invitation to emigrate and the sheet metal workers who continue to work without anyone who can sell them oxygen and acetylene.
They can also throw behind bars all those drivers who come up with parts for their cars, parents who buy leather shoes under the table, teachers who give private lessons, and the flight attendants and pilots who return loaded with goods for sale.
All of us who live in Cuba have been forced at some point to turn to the black market to “resolver” certain needs. I wonder if those who work for the Granma newspaper are so irreproachable that they can go around throwing stones at the rest of us.
It would be more constructive if they were to re-read Antoine Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince, where the wise king explained that in order to govern “it’s necessary to require of each person what they can individually give,” adding “authority rests primarily on reason.”
An authorized Havana Times translation of the Spanish original appearing in BBC Mundo.